Home Office Stops Feeding Afghan Child Refugees Still Stuck In Hotels

25th September 2023 / United Kingdom
Home Office Stops Feeding Afghan Child Refugees Still Stuck In Hotels

By Adam Bychawski: The Home Office has stopped feeding hundreds of Afghan refugees including child refugees who are still living in hotels, a report by openDemocracy reveals.

It follows the government’s decision to end the use of hotels to house more than 8,000 Afghans brought to the UK under its resettlement scheme by September.

Despite ministers pledging to “find homes for all of them”, at least 25 local councils have now been left responsible for preventing more than 500 Afghans becoming homeless, including 300 children, according to responses to Freedom of Information requests openDemocracy sent to every council in England.

Some have been allowed to stay in the hotels on a temporary basis but had their meals withdrawn overnight. One man we spoke to in Bradford, Salim*, said there were no fridges or cooking facilities, meaning he and his family have to rely on takeaways for hot food.

“We are far from the centre and there is nothing but pizza and burger takeaways nearby,” he told openDemocracy.

“I feel terrible that this is all my children eat now – it is not suitable for them.”

Salim said that the change has left children going to school hungry because takeaways aren’t always open, and adults skipping meals because they can’t afford to pay for hot food.

Bradford City Council said the Home Office was still responsible for the accommodation and that the decision to withdraw meals was “national”.

The true number owed a homeless prevention duty is likely to be higher than 500, as 19 councils did not respond to our request for figures.

As of 31 August, 1,826 Afghan refugees were still living in Home Office hotels, according to official data. A Home Office spokesperson said that most of those were waiting to move into settled accommodation or had medical conditions.

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Salim said he had worked as an interpreter for British Forces and later fought the Taliban alongside them. He is one of 95 Afghans in Bradford now facing what is called statutory homelessness – meaning his family is at risk of being homeless and the local council has a legal obligation to help.

Salim was among 15,000 Afghans airlifted to the UK during Operation Pitting in August 2021 after the Taliban takeover. He has been living in hotels since then with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is three years old.

In June, the Home Office told him he would need to find his own accommodation in the private rented sector. Salim recalls how, that month, he spoke to 22 different property agents in Bradford.

“They all said the same thing – that they could not offer me a home because I couldn’t demonstrate I earned enough money and I didn’t have a guarantor,” he said.

On one occasion, he said a property agent just hung up on him as soon as he told them he was a refugee.

The Home Office acknowledged it had not been able to find homes for some families before its August deadline for ending the use of hotels.

Local authorities now owe homelessness duties to all those who remained in hotels, meaning they are legally required to find them accommodation. The Home Office said that some have moved into council properties while others, like in Bradford, have temporarily remained in hotels which it continues to manage.

Asked whether his life was ever in danger while working with the British, Salim said: “Yes – there was one time in particular when we were attacked by a suicide bomber and several people were killed.”

Salim provided openDemocracy with details of the unit he served with, but we have decided to withhold them to avoid him being identified.

He said that the experience of living out of hotel rooms for over two years had been “frustrating”, but that despite this he was grateful to the UK for resettling him.

Luke Pollard, shadow minister for the armed forces, said: “The Conservatives are failing the brave Afghans who risked their lives supporting our armed forces.

“It is unacceptable that Afghans are facing homelessness after being booted out of bridging hotels and even more shameful that some Afghans cannot properly feed their children.

“From backlogs to broken housing promises, this is a shameful saga of government failure on multiple fronts.

“Our moral duty to Afghans is felt most fiercely by the UK forces they served alongside. Ministers must live up to their promises and end their failing of Afghans.”

A Refugee Council spokesperson said: “It’s vital that we make good on our promises to the brave Afghans who stood alongside British forces against the Taliban. The eviction of Afghan families from hotels has left many in precarious situations, without the support they need to rebuild their lives.

“It’s extremely worrying to hear of Afghan refugees struggling to feed their families while they live in limbo in temporary accommodation, without any kind of security and certainty over what the future holds. Instead of betrayal, our Afghan allies should be properly welcomed and given a chance to start their lives again in the UK.”

Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans’ affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.

A government spokesperson confirmed that Afghans remaining in hotels would no longer be provided food or laundry facilities.

They added: “Our data shows that less than 15% of the families that were in bridging hotels have been accepted as homeless and are now in local authority temporary accommodation.

“The homelessness system acts as a safety net and ensures no family will be left without a roof over their head. Local authorities have been provided with £35 million of new funding to support Afghan households to move from hotels into settled accommodation and we will continue to support councils in their efforts.”

* Name has been changed.

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